Does PR have a learning deficit?

On last week’s edition of NDTV’s ‘We the People', the founder of a work share lamented that he had jobs to fill, but the quality of professionals available is just not up to the mark. This is the double bind that is impacting the PR business in India as well.

For the PR business the challenge is two-fold. First, to find qualified people who can fill PR jobs and the second to quickly upskill existing professionals in the face of budget shortages and rising demands from clients.

VMAGROUP, a global recruitment and training firm for marketing communications, just released ‘The Pulse 2017’ that looks at various issues facing communication professionals. The report, based on inputs from 300 APAC PR professionals, says that, “Half [49%) of the practitioners in communications functions have seen headcount freeze over the last 12 months, and one in seven have seen their teams shrink — both slightly worse numbers than in 2015.”

The report adds almost a quarter (23%)  of the respondent says that, “Their working hours are excessive as a result. More than half across every discipline described their team as ‘under-resourced, with those in brand [86%) and internal communications (72%) particularly adamant on the issue.”

Upskilling PR professionals

Not enough training
‘The Pulse 2017’ report also flags off generalist skills that meet the needs of integrated communications and writing skills, as key area which require urgent attention.

Senior PR professional, Rahul Rakesh, is blunt about the possibilities of systemic upskilling happening anytime soon. Says Rakesh, “ There is a lack of [trained) manpower and industry’s collective failure to promote training and learning. Do I need to explain it further? We have been talking about it but not much significant has been done about it. At one hand, the challenges are mounting and at the other hand, people managing them are increasingly becoming fewer. Like any other industry, ours is also lacking skills despite a good number of people joining the industry every year.”

Richa Seth, account director, Adfactors PR endorses Rakesh’s view pointing out that, “Budding professionals in the industry are not adept with PR skills, moreover the technical training provided to them has become archaic and does not have much relevance in current scenario. Course curriculum provided by institutes for specialisation in PR needs to be updated and in sync with the changing PR landscape.”

Digital and PR consultant, Mayura Amarkant, says that, “While many PR organisations claim to provide training, a concentrated and organised effort must be made at the skills and attitude level. The HR department must be given support from the function managers so that the skill gap is adequately identified and filled through training.”

Mayura specially points to the rising number of boutique agencies who have entered the ecosystem that need aside budgets for skill upgradation.

Outdated PR Skills

Mayura believes that, “While the younger generation need to sharpen research acumen, read more, write better and network to nurture, the older generation must recognise the changing consumer patterns and respond to the change.”

Media Relations
One of the main challenges of PR is to rise above the media relation function, which is still essential bread and butter but not regarded as value addition.

Subhash Pais, founder and business head, i9 Communications says, “In the future we will be able to automate content dissemination and the job of media relations might become a bit redundant and could be outsourced by the current PR firm.”

PR professionals who did not want to be quoted on record say that they despair of the “ spray and pray” PR that is happening is completely outdated. They also told this reporter that, “Following up for press releases is the most outdated process in PR.”

Mayura agrees,  revealing that, “ A senior journalist friend once shared that he gets mails that are plain forwards and then an impersonal call asking, 'Are you going to file the story"? He immediately recognises that the person on the other end is below 26 and inexperienced.”

Adds Mayura, “Many journalists I know, have two telephone numbers, one for the WhatsApp and the other for calling. That is because of the amount of junk they receive on WhatsApp in the name of company PR information.”

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